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Delta Wings It in Massive Critical Outage

10 August 2016 | Updated 01 January 1970

Tuesday 9 saw Delta CEO Ed Bastian taking to the airwaves to update customers on the outage that led to hundreds of cancelled flights around the world. He said the airline had grounded at least 870 flights on Monday 8 with the words: "We’re very sorry, I’m personally very sorry. We’ll do everything we can to make sure this never happens again."

775 flights were then cancelled on Tuesday with 90 expected on Wednesday - along with delays caused by planes and crews being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Critical power control module...back-ups fail

Chief Operating Officer Gil West took up the story: “Monday morning a critical power control module at our Technology Command Center malfunctioned, causing a surge to the transformer and a loss of power. The universal power was stabilised and power was restored quickly. But when this happened, critical systems and network equipment didn’t switch over to back-ups. Other systems did. And now we’re seeing instability in these systems.

“For example we’re seeing slowness in a system that airport customer service agents use to process check-ins, conduct boarding and dispatch aircraft. Delta agents used the original interface we designed for this system on Monday while we continued with our resetting efforts.

“Delta is a vast people-moving machine that is tightly wound around a schedule. Similar to what happens after a severe weather event, it is not unusual for a global airline to take more than 24 hours to return to full reliability. When Delta doesn’t fly aircraft, not only do customers not get to their destination, flight crews don’t get to where they are scheduled to be. When this happens, unfortunately, further delays and cancellations result. And flight crews can only be on duty for a limited time before rest periods are required by law.

“Flight crews – pilots and flight attendants – carry out their responsibilities in a rotation, a schedule of flights and hotel reservations, that is usually three or four days. As cancellations occur, rotations become invalid. Multiplied across tens of thousands of pilots and flight attendants and thousands of scheduled flights, rebuilding rotations is a time-consuming process.

“And keeping safety top of mind is a constant in our actions and especially while we’re running our operation in recovery mode and making sure flight crews on duty have all they need to operate a safe flight, especially consistent delivery of information.

“Delta employees worldwide are doing everything possible to return the operation to normal and get customers to their destinations.”

At one point, Delta didn't even know where en route some of its planes were with flight status systems saying 'on time' when clearly this was not the case. However, there was no impact on in-flight systems - so no fear of near misses or crashes.

Delta's compensation bill could run into $millions. The carrier is offering compensation to customers significantly affected by delays or cancellations and has been obliged to provide hotel and other accommodation if a cancellation required an overnight stay.

On one single Friday this year, 624,000 revenue customers departed on Delta flights to destinations around the globe - with the summer expected to see at least 10 similar days.


Eggs in one basket

This is not the first time a massive global systems that airlines rely on to control planes, baggage and passengers has failed in recent times. Earlier this year, Southwest Airlines reported a similar failure and subsequently a full recovery across its network. Again it was obliged to offer compensation for a full week of disruption for July 20-26. The cause of the problem is said to have been a simple router failure at a data centre in Dallas - which led to about 2,300 flight cancellations.


From the New York Times

An article from the New York Times quotes Bob Offutt, Principal of Travel Technology Consulting and former chief architect at Sabre, the world’s largest computer reservations system as saying:“These systems are so complex, it’s surprising we haven’t had more major failures.”

In fact there have been. Again according to the NYT, last year, malfunctions in United Airlines’ computer systems grounded hundreds of flights, and American Airlines experienced delays after a bug in its iPad software meant that pilots did not have accurate airport maps.


Picture: A safe landing for a Delta flight but the company was clueless for three days as to when it would take-off again...senior executives at Delta chose the wrong day to give up smoking, drinking and sniffing glue on Monday 8


Article written by Brian Shillibeer | Published 10 August 2016


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